A Single Manila Folder

Fifteen years ago I sat through a multi-level-marketing sales pitch. I don’t remember what company or what product; I recall only two things: One, thinking “this is interesting, but what if I don’t sell any products or don’t find anyone for my downline?” (yes, even in my 20s I was jaded and cynical); and two, the sales guy, at the front of a room of 150 eager listeners, pitching the ultimate in freedom: walking to work every day with a single manila folder, with a single sheet of paper representing your sales.

I’ve returned to that latter image many times since then; it’s proven to be quite enduring.

Khoi Vinh, over at Subtraction.com, envied the “free spirits” who carried nothing with them as they strolled into work, unencumbered by large bags, and tried to emulate them. For a couple of days, he ditched his baggage, which consisted of

a bag or briefcase in which I carry a stack of papers, my checkbook, a wallet, a small attaché for credit cards, my New York Times identity card, a point-and-click digital camera, extra pens, my iPod and my iPhone, the latest issue of The New Yorker and my keys.

He didn’t stick with it, though, because his concern of not having a place for his stuff make him antsy. I think my girlfriend might understand where he’s coming from: hearing the list of items she carries every day might take the better part of your lunch hour.

I have a slightly different mentality. A year or so ago, spurred on by that fifteen year old memory and maybe a spark from 43Folders I went on a bit of a minimalist kick. Among other things, I ditched my bulking tri-fold wallet for a front pocket billfold. I eliminated as many credit, loyalty and ID cards as I could from my wallet and picked up a Lodis money clip. In that wallet I carry only:

* my driver’s license
* American Express (for 90% of purchases)
* MasterCard (for the other 10%)
* Bank ATM card (two; should reduce it to one)
* AAA card (in my wallet in case I lock myself out of the car)
* Healthcare ID and payment card
* A few bucks in cash

I have other cards, of course, like my Costco or Albertson’s cards: I keep them in my car. Since I never find myself in these stores without my car (or with someone who also has one of these cards), I don’t need to have it on my person at all times.

Beyond the wallet, I try to reduce the amount of stuff I carry on my person. My front door has an electronic lock rather than a traditional one, eliminating one key, and I keep my mailbox key in my car, eliminating a second one. The only keys I carry every day are for my car, my office and my girlfriend’s apartment (and I’ll probably move the latter to a separate keychain and keep those in the car too).

Alas, I haven’t quite eliminated everything from my person. On an average “leaving the house” day, I stuff my pockets with a fair number of items: my wallet, the keys, a Moleskine notebook, a Tul pen, my iPhone and my first-gen iPod nano (mostly for the car). I’m looking at ways of eliminating some of this, but the Moleskine and pen are very important for Getting Things Done.

(If Apple ever introduced a good way to capture random thoughts on my iPhone and sync it back to my computer, I might ditch the notebook. Maybe.)

Like Khoi, when going to work I still find myself tied to a shoulder bag to carry stuff, in my case, my MacBook, an external hard drive, a first-gen iPod shuffle-as-thumb drive (never used), a real thumb drive (used regularly), my company VPN token, a pen or two and usually a magazine or something I’ve printed from work to bring home. If I really tried, I could probably get away with just the Macbook and thumb drive most days.

I haven’t yet extended my minimalist ways to the rest of my life, unfortunately. I am still, by my nature, a pack rat, as one glance at my garage or home office will attest. I recently picked up an audiobook copy of It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life With Less Stuff. (In an irony perhaps only I will appreciate, it is, of course, unabridged.) I haven’t yet listened to it; perhaps it will provide some motivation for minimalizing beyond my wallet.

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